Fallen Flags, a name all too common now describing American railroads (just a bittersweet fact of the free market at work), is a term describing those railroads whose corporate name has been dissolved either through merger, bankruptcy, or liquidation. At one time in the United States there were nearly 140 Class I railroads (or those with at least $1 million annual operating revenue at that time) and today these are commonly known as the fallen flags or “classic” railroads. The older folks reading this can remember almost all of these in person, from the legendary Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway with its famous Warbonnet paint scheme to the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and this country’s first common carrier, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
Most of the classic roads remembered today operated roughly until the 1970s before bankruptcy and mass-mergers (which began in the 1950s with the Norfolk & Western purchase of the Virginian Railway) did many in and dwindled the Class I numbers to just a handful. While the glory days of railroads (when they were earning the most profits) extended from roughly the late 19th century to just after WWII, ask most railfans and the time period with which these railroads are best remembered extends from roughly the 1940s to the 1970s when the railroads began switching from steam locomotives to diesel-electrics (commonly known as “diesels”) and paint schemes and emblems abounded, giving each company its own, personal identity with which folks could relate to.
Much of this "bonding" came from the fact that railroads during those days operated in a particular region or part of the country where folks could easily recognize the system which ran through their town (and to some extent, railroads back then used to be a bit more cordial than today), and not the entire eastern or western half of the country like we see today (for instance, some small towns boasted four to five Class Is at one time!). It should be noted however, that many of the lines we recognize today as classics either did not start out that way or were "mega-mergers" themselves through purchase or takeover of other, smaller systems. Examples of these companies include the New York Central, Reading, New Haven, Atlantic Coast Line, Missouri Pacific, and many others.
In truth, there were actually few now well-known systems that constructed much of their own network or key main routes; it was much less costly to simply purchase smaller lines. In general, many fabled lines gained their names during either the late 19th or early 20th centuries. A few, like the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio system were not created until the 1930s. In any event, today nearly all of those classic companies are gone except for just a few (the Union Pacific is perhaps the most notable along with the Kansas City Southern and the roads up north, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National), although their legends and names will always live on.
Of course, aside from former Class Is (about the only classic lines featured here) other, smaller historic railroads can still be found in service with names like the Ann Arbor, Escanaba & Lake Superior, Claremont Concord, Wheeling & Lake Erie, New York Susquehanna & Western, Florida East Coast, Winchester & Western, Apache Railway, Toledo Peoria & Western, and many more. Below you will find information on some of the best remembered describing each in more detail and broken down into the territory where they operated (i.e., east, west, north, south). Since the website first debuted I have finally had the chance to feature many of these lines although I realize that some are still omitted. As time allows in the future I will look to cover these companies although as it currently stands there are nearly 100 highlighted.
Canadian National Railway (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)
Canadian Pacific Railway (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)
Long Island Rail Road (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.)
Florida East Coast (FEC) (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)
Belt Railway of Chicago (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.)
Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.)
Indiana Harbor Belt (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)
Kansas City Southern (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)
Lake Superior & Ishpeming (This railroad is still operating but placed here because of its historical significance.)
Toledo, Peoria & Western (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.)
Union Pacific (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.)
Railway Express Agency (The REA was not an operating railroad but was an integral part of the railroad industry during the "golden age" when all of the classic systems were in operation.)
You may notice that Canadian National and Canadian Pacific are now
included in the website. After giving it much thought the two lines
have played too significant of a role in the railroad industry's history, especially in its current and future state, to be left out and unmentioned. For
instance several are now of Canadian ownership/control such
as the Soo Line (and indirectly the Milwaukee Road through the Soo's
takeover by CP), Delaware & Hudson Railway, Illinois Central, Grand Trunk Western, Central Vermont, and the Duluth, Winnipeg
& Pacific Railway. Lastly, for more reading about many classic short lines like the Durham & Southern, Magma Arizona, Camas Prairie, and other please click here.
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads.